This pastel drawing, now owned by the Louvre in Paris, was completed in 1775. By this point, Chardin had been working with pastels for several years and was becoming more confident with this medium. Despite receiving praise as early as 1771, it still took some time before Chardin considered himself comfortable within this new phase of his career. Many of his most famous pastel drawings were actually self portraits, but this piece is also highly regarded. The lady captured in front of us here is his second wife, with the pair marrying in 1744. She played a highly significant role in his career and was much more than the housewife figure that so many women were forced into during the 18th century. She was therefore both intelligent and confident, as women without one of these two qualities during that period would have struggled for relevance within a man's life.
Having married once and lost his first wife, perhaps Chardin made a more pragmatic choice second time around. Francois-Marguerite played a huge role in turning her husband's artistic genius into a solid financial future and without her he may well have ended up in poverty. Records suggest that she was extremely well educated and was able to provide correspondence to all of his connections in the art world, when Chardin himself was not. She also took care of his accounts as well, and eventually this duo would achieve a life together without the financial concerns that so many others of this period had to endure. Chardin used his wife for several different portraits after their marriage, and she also took several artworks with her once evicted from their Louvre apartment upon his passing. He now has his own room at the institution, displaying some of his most famous paintings, but the treatment of his wife appears to have been forgotten.
Within this portrait, his wife sports a white headdress with blue bow, just as her husband had worn in several self portraits. She stares off to our left, and is dressed in hard wearing clothes, typical of that period in French history. Whilst the 18th century was unkind to women, it is pleasing that this significant figure was recognised by her husband in this case and that enough information around her life still exists so that her story, to a certain degree, can be told. There are many other women whose impact has been entirely forgotten so we should be grateful for this at least. One can even add female artists to that list, although the 19th century did start to recognise them a little more fairly, giving us household names such as Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt.